It’s hard to believe that before being called up to the Yankees in mid-May, Chase Whitley had made just 14 career starts at the minor-league level and six of those came this season at Triple-A.
Fast-forward to June 18 and he’s now making his seventh major-league start and, despite joining the rotation six weeks into the season, he has the second-highest WAR among Yankee starting pitchers behind only Masahiro Tanaka.
The Yankees are 5-1 in his starts and his ERA of 2.41 ranks in the top 10 in the American League among starters with at least 30 innings pitched. Is Whitley for real and what can we expect in the future?
The first two things to look at when deciding whether a pitcher is pitching above/below his true talent are FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) and BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play).
Whitley’s FIP of 2.58 is close enough to his ERA to show he’s not out-pitching his peripherals, and his BABIP of .291 is only slightly below the league average of .300 which indicates he has not been especially lucky on his balls in play.
One stat that does not appear to be sustainable in the future is his home run rate. He’s given up just one longball in 33 2/3 innings despite an above-average flyball rate of 38 percent.
This suggests he’s been lucky in the number of balls that have left the park relative to the number of flyballs he’s allowed, as his homer-to-flyball rate of 2.5 percent is well below the league average (10%). So we should expect Whitley to give up a few more dingers, which would obviously raise his projected ERA.
Another area that Whitley has been lucky is in the number of hard-hit balls he’s allowed that are turned into outs.
Roughly 15 percent of at-bats against him end in a hard-hit ball (as classified by video scouts at Baseball Info Solutions), which is equal to the league average for starters. However, his batting average allowed on those hard-hit balls is just .579, more than 100 points lower than the league average of .692.
It’s therefore likely that a few more of those laser line drives and hard grounders given up by Whitley will find holes in the defense and turn into hits (probably for extra bases) in the future.
Quality of opposition
Tonight Whitley will face the Blue Jays, who rank in the top five in MLB in nearly every offensive stat. This game will arguably be the toughest test of his career, as he has faced mostly below-average offensive teams so far.
Of the six teams Whitley has faced so far, none rank in the top 10 in runs scored per game and four rank in the bottom half of the majors. The aggregate OPS of all batters he’s faced is .682, which is the lowest among AL pitchers not on the disabled list (min. 30 IP).
Whitley has also started mostly in pitcher-friendly parks, with only one game at Yankee Stadium (his other starts came at Citi Field, Wrigley, Busch Stadium, Kaufmann Stadium and Safeco). He did allow just one run in five innings in that lone Yankee Stadium start, so pitching in the Bronx might not be an issue for him.
Based on the numbers, there are some warning signs to suggest we shouldn’t expect Whitley to keep pitching at this All-Star level for the rest of the season. However there appears to be enough positive indicators to think Whitley can continue to be a solid piece of the rotation going forward with an ERA in the mid-to-high 3s. And that is far more than anybody could have hoped for a month ago when he made his major-league debut at Citi Field.